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74 Take Buyouts in Atlanta Newsroom

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Sunday, April 12, 2009
Updated April 15 Publisher hopes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution can regain profitability in 2010.  

Tucker to Become D.C.-Based Political Columnist

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was announcing that Editorial Page Editor Cynthia Tucker will become a Washington-based political columnist for the paper and that Andre Jackson would assume the new position of "editorial editor," the alternative newspaper Creative Loafing published a list of 74 names "presumed to be taking the latest round of newsroom buyouts" at the Atlanta daily. 

"Star lifestyle writer Jim Auchmutey will be leaving. So will star war correspondent Moni Basu - perhaps not surprising since the AJC's days of sending reporters abroad seems to be over," Scott Henry wrote in Creative Loafing. "The paper also appears to be clearing house of its arts critics: visual arts critic Cathy Fox, theater critic Wendell Brock and classical music critic Pierre Ruhe, as well as Sonia Murray, who writes about the hip-hop scene.

"But the buyouts haven't been the only news from Marietta Street in the past few days. On Friday, the newspaper eliminated its news art department - the folks who produced the graphics and illustrations that accompany articles - laying off the four remaining employees. Also receiving pink slips was the entire news research staff, which likewise included four or five people. Oddly, however, we understand that reporters have not yet been told they no longer have a research department."

Sports columnist Terence Moore is also on the list of those taking a buyout. Other black journalists include Jerome Thompson in news art; Schauna Wright; Steve Harvey of digital; Larry Conley, DeKalb bureau chief; Robin Henry, digital; John Hollis, Southside reporter; Donna Lewis, news reporter; Conni Lawson; reporter Derrick Mahone; and Murray, the reporter covering hip-hop. Print Design Director Evelyn Ortega and Art Director Omar Vega, who are Hispanic, and Basu, who is Indian, are also on the list.

Hank Klibanoff and Cynthia Tucker won Pulitzer Prizes in 2007. Klibanoff, one of four managing editors, left last year. (Credit: Rich Addicks/Atlanta Journal-Constitution).The Journal-Constitution said that Tucker, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary in 2007, will write two columns a week as well as a blog on the newspaper's Web site,

"This is such an exciting time to be providing commentary from the nation's capital,' Tucker said in a prepared announcement by the newspaper.

"This new opportunity not only gives me a chance to witness a historic presidency up close, but it also allows me to focus on what citizens all over the country are focused on - politics out of Washington."

"With Tucker moving to Washington, Andre Jackson has been named editorial editor, a new position. In his new role, Jackson will convene the editorial board as well as write opinion pieces.

"He is currently senior editor for business, federal and state news and was previously a member of the AJC's editorial board. Prior to joining the AJC in April 2008 he was business editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"Ken Foskett, currently the commentary editor, becomes opinion editor, also a new position. He will edit and manage content on the opinion pages and ensure a balance of topics and viewpoints," the newspaper said.  Foskett "will oversee how the daily opinion pages come together. I'll do the same for Sunday and also write the lede Sunday editorial, do planning for topics to cover, sked edit. board meetings, etc.," Jackson told Journal-isms.

The newspaper announced on March 25 it would cut its full-time news staff by about 90 people, or nearly 30 percent, "to lower costs as it tries to regain profitability amid a severe revenue slump.

Andre Jackson"The company also announced it will eliminate distribution to seven more outlying counties, reducing its circulation area to 20 metro Atlanta counties, effective April 26. The cutback will pare daily and Sunday circulation by 2 percent.

"The AJC's news staff will drop to about 230 full-time positions, down from about 323 currently. Staff members with five or more years with the company will be offered voluntary buyouts, with layoffs to follow if they don't achieve the targeted cuts, the company said."

It was unclear whether the Cox-owned newspaper had reached its desired number of cuts.

Publisher Douglas Franklin said in the March 25 story that the AJC's goal is to regain profitability in 2010.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Fires Its Black Columnist

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has fired columnist Sylvester Brown Jr., "the metro columnist covering African-American issues and one of very few black journalists working at the local daily," in the words of the alternative Riverfront Times, "over allegations that officials in East St. Louis paid for a trip he took to Washington, D.C." 

Brown called a news conference on Monday to deny the charge, and presented his side of the story on his blog.

"Last week, I learned through my union, the St. Louis Newspaper Guild, that upper management at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had decided to discharge me for violating the company's ethics policy," he said.

"On March 27, I was told by upper management to leave the building, pending an investigation. I have not been allowed access since - not even to gather my personal belongings or to shake hands with the colleagues and friends I've made over the past nearly six years.

". . . I'm here today to stand up for my name and reputation, which in the end, is all we really have."

". . . I did not expect my bosses to jump to an erroneous conclusion and immediately reduce me to nothing more than a stereotype.

". . . I'm too stubborn to keep my mouth shut, too proud to cast down my eyes, and too old to shuffle."

Brown said management alleged that he took the March 26 plane trip as a gift in return for a column he wrote on and turned in the day before about a renewable energy project in East St. Louis.

"I'm here to tell you that these charges are a gross distortion of the facts, which in my view, have been purposely manipulated to provide cover for far more desperate and nefarious acts within this once proud and honorable institution," Brown said.

Kristen Hinman added in the Riverfront Times:

"Brown says he has been complaining of unfair, racially discriminatory policies at the paper for the past year and believes he is now being retaliated against for speaking out. 'In my mind this has nothing to do with this made-up charge and more to do with our history, with what I've been complaining about, and with Lee [Enterprises] having to shed jobs. Here they thought they had a convenient excuse to do that.'"

According to KPLR-TV, the Post-Dispatch released this statement:

"Our integrity and our credibility with readers is of utmost importance to us. Our ethics policy clearly states the parameters regarding conflict of interest, and what our journalists can and cannot do.

"Arnie Robbins, Editor"

Brown joined the Post-Dispatch in 2003 after the death of Gregory B. Freeman, then the paper's most prominent black columnist. Brown had been editor and publisher of a local black publication, Take Five.

The Riverfront Times wrote this at the time:

"Putting out a newspaper by yourself is a labor we wish on no one. It took Sylvester Brown fifteen years to realize he was doing the impossible by publishing Take Five from his home.

"With help from his wife, Brown wrote and edited the stories. He sold the ads. He did the layout. He delivered the finished product to newsstands, s taying a half-step ahead of creditors who didn't care that he was producing the city's best newspaper aimed at the African-American community. He usually walked away with an armful of Excellence in Communications awards at the annual ceremony sponsored by the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists, topping bigger rags that published more often and with bigger budgets.

"With a family to feed, Brown time and again threatened to cease publication. In May he finally did. The city had lost an important voice. But not for long.

"Less than a month after the final edition of Take Five hit the streets, Brown became a metro columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a prize gig for any journalist. Brown's was not the traditional path to media star, and it shows in his plainspoken style. Raised a Jehovah's Witness, he left home at age seventeen and worked a series of low-paying jobs before Laclede Gas hired him as a construction worker. His academic credentials come from Forest Park Community College. While it's too early to predict his trajectory at the staid Post, it's already fun to read Brown as he works to find his voice within the constraints of a short column in St. Louis' only daily." [Added April 14.]

Iran Stages Quick Trial of Iranian-American Journalist

"The jailed Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi was waiting to learn her fate today after her one-day trial on espionage charges at Tehran’s Revolutionary Court," the Times of London reported on Tuesday. 

The speedy trial of Roxana Saberi set back U.S. efforts to secure her release. She faces up to 10 years in prison. "She was tried on charges of 'spying for foreigners . . . for America,' Ali Reza Jamshidi, an Iranian government spokesman said, adding that a verdict was expected in two to three weeks. She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

"Ms Saberi, 31, who was arrested in January after buying a bottle of wine and subsequently accused of working without press credentials, was charged last week with spying for the United States. An investigative judge involved in the case alleged that she had passed classified information to American intelligence services.

"She 'was carrying out spying activities under the guise of being a reporter', Hassan Haddad, the chief deputy prosecutor said last week. 'The evidence is mentioned in her case papers and she has accepted all the charges,' he added.

"News of yesterday’s speedy trial came as a setback for American efforts to secure her release. They also dashed hope of rapprochement between the countries, raised by Tehran’s positive response to President Obama’s appeal for direct talks.

"Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, expressed her 'deep concern' for Ms Saberi’s safety and dismissed the charges against the reporter as baseless. She said it was unclear why the trial was moving at such fast pace, especially given the gravity of the charges." [Added April 14.] 

FAMU J-Dean Says University Forced Faculty Removal

Belle S. Wheelan and James E. HawkinsA decision by the university administration, acting after a site visit from an accreditation agency, forced the dean of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism & Graphic Communication to remove three full-time employees from classroom duties because they lacked master's degrees,  the dean, James E. Hawkins, said on Monday.

A visiting instructor is "unlikely to return" to the faculty, and six adjunct instructors are similarly affected, Hawkins has said.

"I believe we made a credible argument in citing professional experience as the equivalent of the master's degree. However, the site team did not agree with our assessment. Consequently, we were later told the people identified were not qualified to teach," Hawkins said Monday via e-mail.

However, the leader of the accrediting unit told Journal-isms that no accrediting rule requires journalism instructors to hold master's degrees.

Belle S. Wheelan, president of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, wrote this of the site team: "I have not read their report; however, even if they did disagree, the FINAL DECISION belongs to the Board.

"You have somebody who's been a journalist for 3,000 years, surely they can teach an introductory course in journalism" without holding a master's degree, she said.

Wheelan pointed to the applicable guideline:

"When determining acceptable qualifications of its faculty, an institution gives primary consideration to the highest earned degree in the discipline. The institution also considers competence, effectiveness, and capacity, including, as appropriate, undergraduate and graduate degrees, related work experiences in the field, professional licensure and certifications, honors and awards, continuous documented excellence in teaching, or other demonstrated competencies and achievements that contribute to effective teaching and student learning outcomes. For all cases, the institution is responsible for justifying and documenting the qualifications of its faculty."

A report Friday in the Famuan, the student newspaper, that the school would lose 10 professors because of the master's degree requirement prompted a discussion on the e-mail list of the Sports Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists, which includes some alumni of the school.

"Absolutely no one on FAMU's entire faculty knew how to guide me in what I wanted to become, which was a sports reporter," Omar Kelly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel wrote.

"But those who came fresh out of the professional ranks knew exactly where to point me.

"Don't get me wrong. I had some really good teachers in the j-school program at FAMU. But they were not the tenured ones, and typically got pushed out the door because they didn't have a master's."

While Kelly's was the prevailing sentiment, another wrote, "i understand the value that professors from the private sector can provide, but no reputable research institution can have a faculty full of people with bachelor's degrees. that's not administrators not knowing what's happening on the ground. that's a university being what it's supposed to be — an institution of higher learning, not a trade school."


Credit: Tim Jackson

Did Toxic Dumping Help Turn Somalis Into Pirates?

"With no coast guard to defend its shores, Somalis began complaining that vessels from Asia and Europe were dumping toxic waste in their waters and illegally scooping up red snapper, barracuda and tuna," Todd Pitman wrote about halfway into a story Sunday from the Associated Press headlined, "Somali pirates a far cry from buccaneers of old."

"The rampant illegal fishing began destroying the livelihoods of local fishermen," he continued.

"According to a memo prepared last month by the staff of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, Somali clans began resorting 'to armed gangs in an attempt to stop the foreign vessels. Over time, these gangs have evolved into hijacking commercial vessels for ransom as an alternative source of income.'"

Pitman's story provided some of the context missing from many of the accounts of the capture and freeing on Sunday of Capt. Richard Phillips of Underhill, Vt., "believed to have been the first U.S. citizen taken by pirates since 1804, when U.S. Navy Commodore Stephen Decatur battled the infamous Barbary pirates off the northern coast of what is now Libya, dispatching U.S. Marines to the shores of Tripoli," as Pitman wrote.

Lisa Jackson, the new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, was asked about the toxic dumping during a conference call with members of the Trotter Group of African American columnists.

She told Journal-isms she did not know much about that, but added, "This points to something I have been talking about, the hidden impact to environmental problems. This may be an extreme example of vigilantism. Everything we do comes at a cost. . . . We've bought into the idea that the costs don't impact us directly."

At the March 5 Capitol Hill hearing, Stephen Mull, acting undersecretary of state for international security and arms control, said, "We share your concern that a motivating factor in all of this, Congressman, is . . . that these international fishing firms are coming in and depleting the fishing stocks there in the region.

"And so one of the goals that we had in standing up this international contact group of these 28 countries and six organizations that we launched in New York back in January, was to get all these countries to commit. Not only are they going to fight pirates, but they're also going to commit to not fish illegally or dump toxic substance into Somalia's territorial waters. And to also support the government of Somalia's efforts to assert its rights for an exclusive economic zone — you know, the 200-mile zone under the Law of the Sea Treaty.

"So all of our European partners have pledged to do that. Some countries have actually passed laws against it. The enforcement is still a little spotty and we'll keep working on that."

Rep. Martin Henrich, D-N.M., said, "I think that's an important point and I'm glad to hear that, because if we're not going to be dealing with this 10 years from now, we need to address the underlying factors."

Columnist Mitchell Discloses She Has Breast Cancer

Mary Mitchell"More than 500 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer every day," columnist Mary Mitchell wrote Monday on her Chicago Sun-Times blog. "On March 13, I was one of them.

"It was as if someone had strapped me into the cab of a roller coaster.

"Each new test jerked me up a monstrous incline; each new piece of information flung me into an abyss. And still I consider myself blessed.

". . . In fact, the average age for a breast cancer diagnosis is 61 years old. I will be 60 next month. So on top of all the other age-related afflictions women can look forward to, there's a good chance we will get some form of breast cancer in our lifetime. Yet for the most part, breast cancer gets the silent treatment among black women. I cannot justify being quiet. Because of the silence — coupled with the limited access most low-income women have to quality healthcare — cancer is often discovered in African-American women at late stages.

". . . Without an aggressive plan to increase the availability of mammograms and other early detection screening to low-income women, the poor prognosis for black women with breast cancer drives the perception that it is a death sentence. It is not. Over the past 30 days, I have been embraced by black women who have survived the disease because of early detection. Now I've been drafted into a war where tens of thousands perish every year, partly because of a lack of knowledge. I can't hide.

"After reading this, if just one woman gets a long overdue mammogram, I will be encouraged." 

"Live" Truck Operator, 42, Dies in Motorcycle Crash

Ernest Lester "Veteran South Florida television journalist Ernest Lester died Saturday in a motorcycle crash in Northwest Miami-Dade," Miami's WFOR-TV reported.

"'We are stunned,' said WFOR/CBS4 operations manager, Jose Damas.

"Lester, 42, worked for ten years as a 'live' truck and satellite truck operator at CBS4, covering hurricanes, riots, politics, crime, 'you name it,' said Damas. 'He was dedicated to his work, and generous to a fault.'

"'Ernest lived up to his name — humble, dedicated and a bright light in our WFOR family,' said WFOR/CBS4 News Director Adrienne Roark. . . .

"Lester was killed Saturday afternoon when his motorcycle struck a silver Volvo that had turned left in front of him on Northwest 199th Street at 57th Place, according to his brother, Edwin Lester, assignment manager at WSVN, Channel 7."

SPJ, RFK Center Announce Journalism Awards

"Mexico Under Siege: The Drug War at Our Doorstep," a multipart project  in the Los Angeles Times,  "AIDS in the African American Community," which aired on the "CBS Evening News: Weekend Edition," and “The African Press, Civic Cynicism, and Democracy” by Minabere Ibelema of the Department of Communication Studies, University of Alabama at Birmingham, were among the winners of the 2008 Sigma Delta Chi Awards for journalism, the Society for Professional Journalists announced on Monday.

"Mexico Under Siege" won in the "Non-Deadline Reporting (affiliated)" category; the AIDS piece, "The South's Silent Epidemic," won in "Public Service in Television Journalism (Network/SS/Program Service)," and “The African Press" won in "Research about Journalism." CBS News correspondent Randall Pinkston and producer Alturo Rhymes produced the AIDS story.

Meanwhile, The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights announced winners in the nine professional and four student categories of the 41st Annual Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards.

The domestic radio winner was "36 Years of Solitary: Murder, Death and Justice in Angola," by Laura Sullivan of National Public Radio, which has already won Peabody and Investigative Reporters and Editors awards, among others. Inmates Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace were convicted of the 1972 murder while they were inmates at Louisiana's Angola prison after a racially charged investigation. Woodfox and Wallace are black; the victim, Brent Miller, was white. "The two men were sent to solitary confinement, where they have remained for the better part of four decades," as NPR reported, disclosing that new evidence raised questions about the men's guilt.

The domestic photography winner was "Too Young to Die" by freelancer Carlos Javier Ortiz, featured in Ebony magazine. "This series examines the epidemic of gun violence which not only plagues lower-income, urban neighborhoods, but youth from all walks of American life. Ortiz' artistry and sensitivity delivers a powerful look at a tough subject," the RFK Center said.

The domestic print winner was "The Cruelest Cuts" from the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer. "Based on exhaustive research, this report exposes how the poultry industry ignored and threatened workers injured on the job, while creating an illusion of safety inside their plants. These companies employed practices which boosted profits while jeopardizing the health of thousands of vulnerable poultry workers," the RFK Center said.

Ellis Cose Produces Longform Radio Series

"Against the Odds," a Public Radio International documentary series profiling people who have overcome significant obstacles, is airing around the country at various times on public radio stations.

Ellis Cose, columnist for Newsweek, author and president from 1983 to 1986 of the Maynard Institute, writes, hosts and is the executive producer of the series.

The premiere is a one-hour feature, "Hope on a Pile of Bones," timed to examine the Rwandan genocide 15 years to the day of its start in 1994.

"Breaking the Bonds of Tradition" focuses "on several remarkable people in India who have said 'no' to prejudice and low expectations. We profile a Dalit, i.e., Untouchable, leader who is providing scores of young people from poor villages with their first chance ever at receiving an education with dignity.

"'Nerds in the Hood' looks at kids from some of the toughest streets on both coasts who have managed, despite their harsh backgrounds, to become exemplary achievers. We profile a former San Francisco drug dealer whose business cost him the use of his legs, but whose second act includes study at UCLA."

Thomas Now Ranks Among Ebony's "Most Influential"

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the only African American on the nation's top court, has finally arrived on Ebony magazine's list of the "most influential black Americans."

He is featured in the May issue's "Power 150," and was on last year's list as well.

But until 2006, the justice, named in 1991, was judged not to fit the criteria.

As reported at the time, the magazine told readers, "Two criteria guided the experts and editors who made the final recommendations:

"Does the individual transcend his or her position and command widespread national influence?

"Does the individual affect in a decisive and positive way the lives, thinking and actions of large segments of the African American population, either by his or her position in a key group or by his or her personal reach and influence?"

Bryan Monroe, who was on the 2006 list as president of the National Association of Black Journalists, became editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines later that year.

Thomas gave Jet magazine's Kevin Chappell an interview in 2007 in connection with the release of his memoir.

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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